The experience of nontraditional students enrolled in a transitions course in an undergraduate program

Date of Completion

January 2009


Education, Adult and Continuing




The number of nontraditional students enrolled in institutions of higher education continues to increase, making them a significant presence in higher education. Despite the rising numbers of nontraditional students who enroll in college, the lack of persistence, or attrition, in this population is a growing area of concern. One explanation for the high rate of attrition among nontraditional students could be the lack of adequate support provided at the point of their entry or return to college. A transitions course designed to facilitate return to college is an example of a programmatic response to support nontraditional students. This study focused on the experiences of nontraditional students enrolled in a transitions course. Specifically, this study explored factors that characterized nontraditional students upon entry into a transitions course, and the nature of the changes in their academic self-regulation and mental model of being a student related to participating in the course. ^ The conceptual framework for this study comprised empirical and theoretical research about academic self-regulation and mental model development for college students and adult learners and related this research to nontraditional students. ^ The study design followed a qualitative case-study methodology. Data was collected from 12 students enrolled in a transitions course at a large research-intensive public university in the northeast. Primary data collection strategies included interviews and pre-existing data prepared by the students during the semester. Data was analyzed following the constant comparative method. Trustworthiness was established using peer debriefing, data triangulation, member checking, and negative case analysis. ^ Six themes were identified from the data, and findings suggested that students who participated in the transitions course developed academic self-efficacy for academic skills and learning strategies and developed a more complex mental model of being a student based on an enhanced desire to learn- and active participation and engagement in the classroom. ^